TV blog: Billy Connolly and Me: A Celebration

Benjie Goodhart / 13 April 2017

A tribute to a man who's earned every moment of praise. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Billy Connolly and Me: A Celebration, Tuesday 18th April, 9pm, ITV

I’ve often thought what a shame it is we’re not at our own funerals. Or, at least, we are, but we’re not exactly paying attention. My dad died in January, and we are currently planning a memorial service for him where loads of people are going to stand up and talk about how brilliant he was: Human rights activist, fighter of injustice, lawyer, knight, peer, he did it all. (Never had his own TV blog, mind, so who’s the real winner here?) He was an incredible and lovely man, and I wish he was going to be there to hear so many people talk about how incredible and lovely he was.

Happily, Billy Connolly isn’t dead, and he, at least, gets to hear this hour-long tribute to his awesomeness. Good for him. As a polymath whose career has included stand-up, TV comedy, Hollywood, serious drama, travelogues, music and generally being a rather gloriously eccentric anti-establishment type, he’s earned every moment of praise. The show features famous moments and clips from his career, intercut with an interview with him, and also with video messages from his fans.

Some of his fans might look a little familiar. There’s a softly spoken lady named Judi, from Surrey, who seems to have worked with him. And a Scotsman called Andy who used to listen to Billy Connolly tapes on the way to play in junior tennis tournaments with his brother Jamie. There’s a comedian called Peter from Bolton, who claims to have had his comedy epiphany while watching Billy Connolly. And there’s some fellow called Elton from Berkshire, but who’s heard of him?

Best of all is Armando (Ianucci) who went to the same strict Glaswegian Catholic school that Connolly had attended before him. Connolly’s early material was considered somewhat controversial, and Ianucci and his fellow pupils were told it was a mortal sin to listen to Connolly. But then he became properly famous, so they invited him back for prize giving instead!

Many of the contributors, however, are just people whose lives were influenced by the Big Yin. There’s the man who moved to Australia after watching Billy’s travelogue there. An appalling Billy Connolly lookalike (I think I look more like Connolly than he does, and I’m bald!) And a woman who says, rather implausibly, “I gave birth to Billy Connolly.” Either she’s lying, or his mum’s looking pretty fantastic for someone in her 100s. Oh, hang on… she gave birth while listening to a Billy Connolly CD. Apparently it worked better than traditional pain relief.

Billy Connolly features in our list of our favourite British rebels - read more...

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Joanna Lumley’s Postcards 1/6, Thursday 20th April, 8:30pm, ITV

And so we move seamlessly from the first of this week’s programmes, an ITV rehash of old footage and past TV shows linked together by an interview with the star, to… well, to something pretty much identical. Has ITV actually run out of money? How long until we switch on ITN News and see Alastair Burnet presenting the latest goings on from 1979?

“I was virtually born in a suitcase,” says Joanna Lumley, “and my earliest memories are of life on the move.” Ahh, that explains her love of adventure, her eternal wanderlust, her roving, restless spirit. In the past, her TV travel shows have taken her as far afield as Iran, Greece, Japan, Siberia, Rwanda and Norway. Now, in this series, she’s packing her bags, getting her jabs and her visas in order, and setting off for the wilds of… um… her living room.

Because in Joanna Lumley’s Postcards, they’re simply showing us old bits from her previous travel shows, cut together with her sitting in her study, pretending to look at maps, and reminiscing about how marvellous everyone was.

It’s a bit like when you go on an all-inclusive holiday, and they serve chicken for dinner, and then the next morning, for breakfast, chicken omelette is on the menu, and they don’t actually think you’ll notice.

But I like chicken, and I like leftovers for breakfast. I also like Joanna Lumley – indeed, I think she’s up there with Victoria Sponge and the Wellington Boot in terms of national treasures – so I don’t mind a bit of a rehash. But I imagine some people will.

This series opener sees her reminiscing about her trip along the Nile in 2010, specifically in Egypt and Sudan. We see her falling in love, which is a charming and deeply personal moment, ruined only slightly by the fact that the object of her ardour is a camel called Charlie Brown.  We also see her talking to a rather extraordinary chap who works on his sail boat on the Nile, and who has seen demons three times in his life. They take the form, he assures us, of rabbits, or goats, or horses. So it’s just as possible that what he’s actually seen three times is plain old rabbits.

On to Sudan, which has more pyramids than Egypt (albeit slightly smaller ones). Deep in the Nubian Desert, she visits the tomb of one of the Black Pharaohs, filled with extraordinary frescoes, and without another tourist in sight. Less than 1,000 people visit them every year, making for an incredibly intimate experience.

Then it’s off to see how Sudanese women prepare for marriage by being smoked. Yes, that’s what I said. They’re basically turned into marital kippers. They have to sit, naked underneath a robe, on a small stool above a vase filled with smoking twigs. Apparently it makes the women smell nicer. And has another side effect, that I wouldn’t dream of mentioning to such a refined audience, but which most definitely gives Ms Lumley the giggles.

That’s the thing about Joanna Lumley, though: She’s fun, and funny, and engaging, and rather lovely, in that soothingly posh way of hers. I don’t mind watching her old stuff. Even if it does feel like a bit of a con job, who on Earth minds being conned by someone quite so lovely?

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 15th April

Snooker: The World Championship,  10am, BBC One, and then on BBC One or Two for the next 17 days(!!!): Men in waistcoats use sticks to move balls around a table and occasionally pot them. In the 1980s, 18 million people stayed up until 1am to watch them do this.

Take Me Out, 7pm, ITV: Paddy McGuinness presents the show where overconfident men with spray tans ask a group of women three probing questions, before ignoring their answers and picking the best looking for a date.

Doctor Who, 7:20pm, BBC One: Peter Capaldi returns for his final series as the Doctor, with Pearl Mackie debuting as sidekick Bill Potts. My nine-year-old son and I are delighted.

Britain’s Got Talent, 8pm, ITV: The entertainment behemoth staggers on to our screens for an 11th series, looking like an exhausted, bloated dinosaur being ridden by a man who can’t seem to do up his shirt properly.

Sunday 16th April:

Maigret, 8pm, ITV: Rowan Atkinson return as the French detective. A mysterious Dane has the body of a diamond dealer in his car. As a gendarme, this is not the sort of thing of which Monsieur Maigret approves.

Rome’s Sunken Secrets, 8pm, Channel 4: Investigating the underwater ruins of Baiae, a Roman city on the Bay of Naples which was built just a tad too close to a volcano…

Colombia with Simon Reeve, 9pm, BBC Two: About a fortnight ago I wrote how Reeve’s shows are coming from increasingly safe destinations. Well, don’t I look the silly goat. Here’s the new one-off in Colombia, from the always watchable journalist.

Monday 17th April

Hunting the KGB Killers, 9pm, Channel 4: Riveting feature-length documentary telling the extraordinary and terrible tale of the murder of Alexander Litvinienko and the dramatic investigation that followed.

Broadchurch, 8/8, 9pm, ITV: Is it just me, or is everyone in Broadchurch basically deeply miserable and/or borderline psychopathic? Anyway, the answers should emerge tonight, in what is rumoured to be the last ever Broadchurch. It will be missed.

Tuesday 18th April

Natural World, 9pm, BBC Two: Professor Doug Emien examines how animals use their bodies as weapons. Don’t expect the bunny rabbit to feature too heavily.

Don’t Ask Me, Ask Britain, ITV, 8pm: Alexander Armstrong presents an interactive comedy gameshow, in which teams of celebrities you may or may not recognise guess how the public will vote in moral dilemmas. In short, someone who was once in Corrie proves more adept at predicting how the public will vote than all of our polling organisations have managed in recent years.

First Dates, 10pm, Channel 4: The restaurant opens for business once more, in this (variously) enchanting, toe-curling, romantic, shocking, hilarious, enraging and enthralling look at how people behave on dates.

Wednesday 19th April:

Tonight at the Palladium, 8pm, ITV: Chirpy chappie Bradley Walsh presents an evening of variety from the London Palladium. Just like 1976 all over again.

How to Live Mortgage Free with Sarah Beeny, 8pm, Channel 4: Odd title. What happens if we don’t want to live with Sarah Beeny? Can we still be mortgage free, or is she part of the deal?

Mind Over Marathon 1/2, 9pm, BBC One: Ten runners with mental health issues prepare to run the London Marathon. Impressive and inspiring.

Confessions of a Junior Doctor, 9pm, Channel 4: Cameras follow much put-upon junior doctors as they work. If you had any doubt that the NHS is facing a crisis, watch and learn.

Thursday 20th April

Born to Kill, 9pm, Channel 4: About as dark a drama as you’ll see this year, this is a look at the increasingly unhinged actions of a teen psychopath. Newcomer Jack Rowan is utterly mesmerising in the lead role.

Friday 21st April

Springwatch in Japan, 8:30pm, BBC Two: The team journey eastwards for the extraordinary annual festival of cherry blossom. Expect a visual treat.

Versailles, 9:30pm, BBC Two: The deliciously lavish French costume bonkbuster returns for another lascivious take on history.

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